Acquiring Millennials – Cracking the Code

Much head-scratching happens around engaging Millennials. At Turnkey, we turn to research to inform our work. Our human behavior expert, Otis Fulton, prepared an overview of the Millennial audience, which I will share with you.

Understanding our audience members and their motivations is important to successfully recruiting them to support our causes. Born in 1980 or later, Millennials are the first generation of digital natives; at about the time they entered high school, the internet became a public space. Half of this group, age 26 and younger, entered high school with social media, first Myspace and then Facebook.



For good reason, chief development officers want to understand how to access Millennials. As a group, Millennials want to support charitable causes. The “2013 Millennial Impact Report” found 52 percent of respondents said they’d be interested in monthly giving.

For most of this generation, digital life always has been the norm. And, as we all seem to suspect, Millennials are different.

San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge wrote in her books, “Generation Me” and “The Narcissism Epidemic,” about the rise of “me” and what it means for society. It turns out that the group is different in a couple of ways.

The first is that Millennials are more narcissistic than previous generations. This is testable—they score higher on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory.

How does narcissism shape their attitudes? It means they are somewhat more selfish than average, tend to like themselves a lot and crave the admiration of others. A lot of research has indicated they aren’t “joiners.” For example, the “Association Communications Benchmarking Survey” suggested more than half (56 percent) of professional associations have admitted they have trouble engaging young professionals and 55 percent of associations have trouble customizing their communications for Millennials.

The second way that Millennials are different from previous generations is that they love social media. Interestingly, this reinforces their bent toward narcissism. Research has suggested that using social media may lead people to view themselves more positively.

About 51 percent of Millennials said they are mostly or almost always online and connected, while another 39 percent said their lives are a mix of online and offline. Nine out of 10 are connected a significant portion of each day! Today, Facebook and (to a lesser degree) Twitter are the two dominant social platforms this group uses for news and information.



Although 88 percent of Millennials get news from Facebook, the more common motivations for using the platform are social. Seventy-six percent of Facebook Millennials cite seeing what their friends are talking about and what’s happening in their friends’ lives as a main reason they turn to Facebook. The reasons they use Twitter are related but slightly different. Twitter is a place to learn about what people, in general, are talking about, not just the lives of people they know.

Put three common threads together—individualism, digital presence and desire for charitable participation—and you get a pretty clear prescription for peer-to-peer engagement. As we know, being engaged with peers online is part of everyday life for the vast majority of Millennials.

According to the 2013 study, when involved in nonprofits, Millennials prefer to share information about the cause, not the organization itself. To me, this preference means that peer-to-peer messaging needs to avoid traditional PR and move toward content focused on the cause.

And what happens when they do venture away from their screens and volunteer? Millennials view volunteer opportunities as a way to socially connect with like-minded peers. This moves them beyond technology (social networking) to in-person action. So it’s important to craft marketing messages that highlight the peer involvement. For example, “Join 20 other yoga enthusiasts at Bikram Yoga for a Yoga-for-Good fundraiser this Saturday.”

Next week, I’ll dig into the experience of Vickie LoBello, former chief development officer of St. Baldrick’s Foundation and now Turnkey’s lead strategist, and how to put this information into action in the peer-to-peer market.